Reflections On Watching 2001 For the First Time Since My Dad’s Stroke

The last time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, my Dad had the stroke that would eventually lead to his death in 2012.

I wasn’t with him at the time. Venice and I were at the Cinerama in Seattle, catching 2001 in Cinerama format. Though I’d seen the movie many times, on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and Blu-Ray, I’d never felt fully immersed in it until I saw it on a screen that wrapped around me.

The news came at intermission (which takes place just before Frank Poole goes EVA and meets his death). My phone indicated a message from my Mom.

From that night to this, I’ve avoided watched 2001. But tonight, I decided it was time to put it back in the player. I shut the lights, made some tea, and started it up.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I might get emotionally upset, and during the opening scene, I did tear up. But that passed. What followed was a sense of relief, and even a new appreciation.

I’ll explain.

My Dad was a chemical engineer whose career in the 1950s and ’60s was spent, in part anyway, on rocketry. He worked on rocket fuel systems, and on figuring out what kinds of rocket fuels the Russians were using.  It was one of his passions, one whose traces I found even as a kid.

Among my Dad’s books was a copy of Across the Space Frontier, outlining a vision of the space age that had us putting space stations into orbit by 1963. My Dad was 32 when Across came out in 1952, and I’m sure it fired his imagination. Decades later, he perked up when Venice told him she’d covered an event that Space X held. Because of the stroke, he became convinced that she was actually working on the rockets, and he’d ask her all kinds of technical questions that she didn’t have the answers to. I’d explain that she was just reporting on their activities, but he’d forget my explanation and get excited in exactly the same way the next time the subject came up.

A cross section of a space station from Across the Space Frontier
A cross section of a space station from Across the Space Frontier

So as I watched 2001 tonight, it occurred to me that, rather than associate the movie with his illness, I could associate it with his aspirations. Kubrick’s movie was the image of what my Dad hoped to help build, or at least to see built. My Dad never made it that far, for all kinds of reasons. But it adds a new dimension to 2001 to think that there’s a little bit of my Dad, along with his entire generation of scientists and engineers, in that picture.

That doesn’t make things entirely okay, but it does lighten my heart a little.

P.S. My Dad, on his 90th Birthday.

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